Violins for Tyson

The Tyson Elementary School auditorium hummed with excitement.

It was time. On the last Wednesday of the semester, near the end of the annual Winter Assembly, after the choir performances and the drumming and the announcements, 16 first-graders in matching blue shirts filed onto the stage, violins in hand. Prerecorded music filled the air. Parents snapped photos on iPhones.

The students lifted their instruments and began to play.

Led by music teacher Heidi Brook, Tyson’s fledgeling violin program is picking up tempo, introducing a growing group of young Mountain View musicians to the magical world of strings.

It started somewhat by chance, Brook said. When she began teaching at Tyson two years ago, she brought her own violin to class, and before long nearly a dozen parents and coworkers were asking if she could teach their kids, she said.

“I was like, ‘Yeah, sure! Let’s do it,’” Brook said. “There ended up being a lot of interest.”

In the first semester, the after-school music class learned basic music theory and practiced with paper violins, memorizing songs and rhymes about instrument care and handling. In the fall, an online fundraiser raised nearly $1,000 to purchase real violins. A few weeks later, the students opened the cases of their new instruments. A month before the Winter Assembly, they drew their bows across the strings for the first time.

The class is inspired by El Sistema, the Venezuelan music education program championing music for social change, access and community involvement, Brook said. The impact reverberates throughout the neighborhood elementary school. In the music classroom, students are enthusiastic and excited to work. Some who sometimes struggle to pay attention in class find new focus after practicing with their violins, Brook said. Delayed gratification pays off, they learn.

Other staff notice, too. At Tyson, the program is the first of its kind.

“The teachers are super excited about it,” said Danielle Kovarik, the school librarian. “It’s definitely inspiring.”

She sees students come into the library singing songs they learned in violin class, she said. Her own daughter is a student in the class, and she brings her enthusiasm home with her, Kovarik said.

What comes next? Continuity is important, Brook said. As the program grows and students progress, the class will need bigger violins and more of them. She thinks about the future of the program and ways to sustain it, she said. She thinks about her students.

“I wanted them to have that boost,” she said.

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This story appears in the Winter 2018 issue of Mountain View Post magazine: Find copies — including more stories, photos and recipes from Mountain View — at the Mountain View Neighborhood Library and select local businesses.

Categories: News

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